MARSHALL - The setting leading up to Friday's Southwest Conference clash between the Marshall Tigers and Jackson County Central Huskies is tinged with familiarity.
When Marshall last made the trip to Jackson in 2010, the Tigers were 3-0 after wins over Mankato East, Fairmont and Redwood Valley. The Huskies were trying to rebound from a narrow 10-9 loss to Luverne. Confidence abound, the Tigers stepped onto the field and were promptly stunned by the Huskies 27-17 in a physical clash that saw Marshall lose the war in the trenches.
Now in 2012, Marshall is again preparing for an excursion to Jackson sitting at 3-0, while the Huskies are looking to avenge a loss to the rival Cardinals.
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall running back Brock Baumgarn, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Brad Bahlmann as guard Alex Werner, right, pulls to provide a lead block during practice on Wednesday.
But for Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann, the deja vu can end right there.
"It's setting up like two years ago," Bahlmann said. "We were undefeated going in there, they were coming off a loss to Luverne. They outplayed us down there the last time. We have to come out ready to play from the get-go. It's going to be a tough, physical football game, and we need to be ready to match that right from the beginning,"
A physical matchup bodes well for the Tigers, who have powered through their first three games and are ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA. Outscoring opponents 138-34 in their first three games, the Tigers have controlled the offensive and defensive lines.
Marshall's top two runners, taking advantage of a strong and experienced offensive line, have combined for nine scores and 713 yards. Fullback Colton Citrowske leads the team with 392 yards, while Rhett Struve has a team-high seven touchdowns.
Though the defense has performed well, holding opponents to an average of 200 yards of offense, the Huskies' offense will be a new animal for the Tigers.
"So far we've had three teams that really wanted to throw the football," Bahlmann said. "We stopped the run and made them one dimensional. I think Jackson's going to want to run the football in power sets a little bit more, and we need to rise to the occasion."
For that to happen, Marshall will need to continue its proven defensive formula.
"For defense to go well, we have to play well as a team. One breakdown and you give up points. Right now everybody is doing their assignment and hustling to the ball, and we need to keep improving from there," Bahlmann said.
Key cogs in the Tiger defensive machine so far have been a trio of linebackers. Campbell Hofstetter, playing the "warrior" position, Alex Werner and Stephen Womack lead the team in tackles (20, 15 and 13, respectively) and have been crucial to derailing the running games of the opposition. The Tigers have yet to allow a team to rush for 75 yards in 2012.
Werner, who also leads the team in sacks (5), will also likely be tasked with the mission of disarming JCC's primary weapon.
"(Zach) Copley, their tight end, has started since he was an eighth grader," Bahlmann said. "He's a senior now, a five-year starter. We know he's a factor in the game and we want to identify him."
If the Tigers can quiet Copley, the game should be simplified into what Bahlmann called "a battle of wills."
"It's going to be won upfront, and that's what we are looking for," Bahlmann said. "We think we have a good group of O- and D-linemen, and I know they think they've got a good group, so it should be a great game."